DAVID T. CHASTAIN Interview for GuitarWorld.com
Interview by Omar Bhoorasingh
Rock Solid Guitar
Not content with being a seriously shredadelic guitarist, David T. Chastain founded Leviathan Records and made himself into a shred tycoon as well.
David T. Chastain's playing is so varied from one release to another it is sometimes difficult to believe it's the same guy. But Chastain manages to sound like himself even while playing guitar chameleon, equally adept at metal, neo-classical, fusion and progressive rock. Chastain has appeared on over 50 releases as guitar player and many more as producer.
At the helm of his record labels Leviathan Records and Diginet Music he also found a place for himself and other virtuoso guitar players and traditional metal bands. He is a constantly busy guy, writing, recording and producing albums of his own and of other bands on his label. The following interview was conducted via email.
1. Tell me about your growth as a guitar player.
David T. Chastain: I was a pretty quick learner without any formal lessons. My early influences ranged from The Allman Brothers, Holdsworth, Black Sabbath, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hendrix and others of the era. I also studied about music theory from the beginning. I attribute my quick learning curve to extensive jamming with friends. Within 2 or 3 years of starting I was in Atlanta's premier Progressive Hard Rock band called TARGET. Target was actually one of my favorite bands of all time. Long progressive songs sometimes expanding to 15 minutes or more in a live situation. We also had really long versions of tracks such as "Whipping Post" and Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" that would go on for 25 minutes. The other guitarist, Tommy Strain, and myself just clicked in a magical way. I never again played in a commercial band where the 4 musicians could jam that way day in and day out with such excellent results. Fortunately I was young and naive at the time and I was writing material without any concern for the commercial repercussions. Unfortunately towards the end of that band I was faced with that ugly demon. From Progressive Hard rock I went into more of a commercial Hard Rock/Metal band called Spike. Then the traditional metal driven Chastain and CJSS bands. From there to the more progressive metal of my instrumental releases. Then the freeform jam sessions of The Cincinnati Improvisational Group. Then back to more traditional metal. Then a heavy metal acoustic Cd. Then more into a heavy blues rock metal style. Even with the aforementioned, let me say that I was playing all of the styles at all times, it was just I was releasing Cds in that order. I was always recording stuff on the side that never saw the light of day. Make sure to check out http://www.leviathanrecords.com/chasdisc.htm to see all of the diverse recordings. I believe there are over 50. Then at Diginet Music are some of the previously unreleased and out of print material. http://www.diginetmusic.com
2. What was your first major breakthrough on the instrument?
David T. Chastain: I guess that is a good question but the only answer I can think of was getting a Gibson SG. Before that I had been using either a very hard to play acoustic guitar and/or a cheaper very hard to play no name electric. While I appreciate my mother getting me those early guitars to get me started they were very difficult to play. Getting the SG made playing the guitar a much more pleasurable and playable experience. I went 18 straight years without missing a day of at least one hour of practice after the acquisition. When someone tells me that they want to learn how to play guitar I tell them the most important thing is to get the best playing guitar they can find. Right after the SG I got a Les Paul and that was it to finally hook me on the instrument.
3. What was the first record you played on that got a wide release and is it still available?
David T. Chastain: I guess that would have to be the SPIKE "The Price of Pleasure." It was really only released as a regional album in 83. However Diginet Music re-released it last year. Pretty commercial hard rock. A couple of pretty interesting guitar solos considering the backing tracks and the time of release. More in line with AC/DC style material than say Iron Maiden/Dio. Actually that band was due to be released on a major label but the lawyers argued us out of the deal. The band eventually turned into CJSS. Current Firewind/Kenziner vocalist Stephen Fredrick was also in that band but he is not on that particular Cd. However Diginet Music does have a SPIKE Cd called "The Forum Sessions" that he does sing on. That Cd is more of a live in the studio recording. However the first Cd that got worldwide release was the CHASTAIN "Mystery of Illusion" album. That album is not available as far as I know.
4. What bands and musicians do you listen to?
David T. Chastain: I listen to a little of everything. However 90% of my listening time is tied up with bands I produce, play with or are associated with Leviathan or Diginet. With that said I listen to classical music exclusively on Sunday mornings as I read the paper. It helps clear my head for the rest of the week.
5. You're an awesome producer. Tell me about how you got into production. Was it like most guitarists who do it out of necessity or you could not find the guy who understood your vision?
David T. Chastain: On the first Chastain Cd I didn't like the fact that people were changing my songs around. Although I have to admit now many of the changes were beneficial, it still irked me at the time. In any case the cost was also a factor. I enjoy working with other bands when it is music I like and think I can add something. With that said I wouldn't mind working with a producer at some point in the future on one of my Cds. It would sure be a lot easier just coming in and doing my parts and getting the hell out of the studio and letting someone else worry about the other five hundred things.
6. The records you produce have a very clear sound yet and old school vibe, like '70's Black Sabbath. Tell me how you achieve these sounds in the studio?
David T. Chastain: I guess a producer is attracted to the sounds they like. I always feel that a Cd can not sound good unless the drums sound good. So that is my first concern in mixing a Cd. Sometimes I hear other bands and I think they sound great and others horrible. The first time I heard a KORN song it sounded to me like when you get 2 radio stations at the same time. In other words noise. Of course a lot of people like the band so my hat is off to them. I have yet to produce a Cd that I think could not have been better with a little more time. However at some point you just have to let them go out the door. Of course we are always on a limited budget compared to the big boys. I read reports of bands spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the studio and I wonder what the hell are they doing?? It is amazing. If we spend ten thousand dollars recording a Cd we think that is outrageous. I guarantee those bands Cds do not sound ten times better than ours.
7. What scales, and modes do you gravitate to when improvising?
David T. Chastain: Generally in metal it is the minor, phyrgian and harmonic minor usually in that order. In the hard rock and blues more of the blues/rock scale and dorian. I also add a lot of chromatic stuff within the aforementioned scales to give them the "David T. Chastain" sound. Even though I record a lot of different style Cds I think that the solos all have the "David T. Chastain" sound/vibe. Of course there are always variations of the above in certain circumstances.
8. I know you have a huge catalogue of releases, what are you currently working on, as guitar player and producer?
David T. Chastain: I just produced FIREWIND and that Cd (Between Heaven and Hell) is coming out as we speak around the world. I am currently recording/producing new Cds from CHASTAIN, SOUTHERN GENTLEMEN, and GEORGIA BLUES DAWGS.. Also I just released my new David T. Chastain DGM 2002 all instrumental Cd on Diginet Music. That is like improvisational metal/hard rock. I really love those Diginet Guitar Master releases. Not just mine but others like Stump, John Hahn, Gus G, Corbin King, Chris Hattingh and all of the other guys. It is a simple format. All the players are given the same bass and drums tracks and then each player comes up with his own guitar tracks over them. It is really interesting to hear the difference among players.
9. You're the head of Leviathan records and Diginet Music, what bands and players from your labels should we be looking out for. Could the next shred hero be there?
David T. Chastain: Gus G of FIREWIND and Corbin King of VAINGLORY are both exceptional players and song writers. Those guys have a lot of older as well as newer influences and can play the hell out of the guitar. Their Guitar Masters Cds are also excellent examples of their improvisational abilities. They don't just play fast. They also have a lot of feel and emotion in their playing. I also just mastered a Cd by a player from Spain named David Valdes who is also very good.
10. Tell me about how you founded Leviathan and Diginet? What led to them being formed and do you see them providing a service that other labels out there don't?
David T: Leviathan was started in 1985 by Steve McClure (a friend and associate in Cincinnati) and myself basically to put out the first CJSS Cd in the states. I actually had another record company called Starbound Records before that but I only had put out some SPIKE recordings in the Midwest. In any case we also started putting out the Chastain Cds in 87 as well as my instrumental stuff. We expanded to outside acts such as Manilla Road and Candlemass in 88. Back in those days it was very easy to be a record company. We could put out a lp/cassette/Cd with little or no promotion and expect to sell 10 to 20000 units. Now days to sell that many units would cost us a fortune in promotion. I opened up Diginet Music in late 2000 basically to release all of mine and other close friends/artists material we had laying around that never was released. It was intended to be 100% internet distribution but some of the stuff has ended up in normal retail outlets. The stuff really is not suitable for Leviathan Records in the aspect that it is mostly demos, out takes, live jams, etc. However Diginet does do some new productions but once again not normal stuff. At Diginet and Leviathan commercial return is not the primary reason of release. It would be nice to have a huge seller but only on our own terms. We would never release a grunge/rap metal or other such nonsense just to make a buck. Now days I probably have to listen to one of our Cds at least 100 times for different reasons and if I don't like the music then I can't sign it. We did a couple of deals in the early 90s on bands that I didn't particularly like and I regret it now. We have a steady income stream from releases of the last 15 years from around the world so we can be a little different in our ideology.
11. Do you have any plans to tour or do a few shows solo or with any of your many bands, Zanister maybe?
David T. Chastain: I might do a string of shows under the guise of "An Evening with David T. Chastain" playing stuff from all my different projects. Have special vocal guests and the like. Also I have been offered some dates outside of the US that I might do. However it has to be pretty special to get me out of the studio. I use to tour all of the time and it was great the one hour you played but the other 23 pretty much sucked.
12. What gear are you currently using, and is any of it modified like most players normally do?
David T. Chastain: I play Kramer guitars exclusively. Pretty much off the rack stuff. Both new and older models. I am recording pretty much all the time with a POD. Every so often, such as on the new CHASTAIN, I use a Marshall Valvestate. No effects when I lay down the tracks but maybe a few in mixdown. In the old days I worked with BC Rich and the older Kramer Guitar people and they tried making me custom guitars but it never quite worked out. I use to teach guitar and students would come in with these $200 no name guitars that played better than what I had so I just take the standard models and set them up to play as easy as possible. I am pretty confident that I can get any guitar to sound reasonably good with a little time. With that said the new Kramer guitars are really excellent buys. The Quadrail pickups on some of the models are the best metal pickups I have ever heard.